One of the nice things that has shown up over the last few years is the slow rise of Internet videophone technology. I’ve been using Skype for years for various purposes, largely for doing conferences with remote programmers when playing with ideas during projects. But you know a technology is making headway when you see my seniors using it. It was fun today watching my ancient parents doing a call via Skype to my brother, his wife, and my niece and nephew in Al Ain in the Abu Dhabi. If you can’t be there, then the kids and grandparents get more bonding and excitement with a video call than getting the occasional photo and the voice only calls provided by the telcos.
It is also useful for collaborative projects between people. For the last months, I’ve been listening to Lyn as producer of a documentary doing this with the director. The director is doing a scholarship at Stanford University in California. The documentary is as usual on a limited budget. There wouldn’t be the money for the calls required to make decisions on the post-production for the film without the expense free VoIP.
You get an idea about how far this technology is expanding when you look at the numbers and see how the Skype To Skype minutes have exploded in 2008 and 2009, from about 14 billion minutes to almost 28 billion minutes. These are the direct connections between peoples machines that use don’t use any significiant resources from Skype apart from who is online in your list of contacts. The resources are between two computers.
|Date||Total user accounts
|Active users â€” daily presence
|Skype to Skype minutes
Skype voice works on pretty well on low bandwidths easily available in NZ. It is quite flaky on a good dialup connection, but should be adequete under ADSL. Video requires a reasonable ADSL connection. You can use Skype on computer tethered to a a reasonable inner-city 3G mobile connection (I’ve used Vodafone). However running Skype in a smartphone (like the iPhone) directly on the 3G network has an artificial constraint – it will allow text chat, but not voice or video connection. The telcos companies don’t like free systems competing with their services. It is pretty clear why. If I was able to use Skype voice directly on my iPhone, I could use very small amounts of data and massively increase phone minutes to my contact list.
This type of technology only currently works well in countries that have good fixed line phone networks or very good mobile network. For the majority of the worlds population this is not the case. Trying to even e-mail to countries like Papua New Guinea is an exercise in futility. The local fixed networks are low speed, unreliable, and often virus laden. The cell networks are sporadic, sparse, and unreliable for anything apart from voice systems. This applies to most of the developing world. Many are avoiding doing land line based systems and jumping straight to cell networks.
If you’re a telco reliant on toll voice services, you have to be worried by current trends in VoIP. At present the only advantage that telcos have are their switching systems with the switching systems to particular devices. I’d prefer my iPhone (or Android) to run Skype, be connected to the 3G network, and talk to anyone connected with a computer or smartphone.
Something for the next decade.